Preparing an Effective Job Interview

Filling an open position is a process that requires time and planning in order to meet the end goal: finding the right person for the job.

One of the facts of business is that people leave companies. Whether it’s a voluntary or involuntary separation, a void is created that usually, somehow must be filled. If we are fortunate enough to be able to replace the person leaving, we are faced with the prospect of interviewing candidates, and unfortunately, this is something most of us do not do well. Sometimes, we are so anxious to replace an employee that we don’t put enough time into the interviewing/vetting process and hire the wrong person. Other times, we hem and haw about the best candidate for the position and delay making a decision to the point of losing a highly qualified person to another company or, even worse, a competitor.

Interviewing is a process, and like all processes, there is always room for improvement. Preparation is essential to making the process more effective and finding the right person for a job. Here are some considerations when preparing to conduct interviews for any open position:

1. Know the real needs of the job you are filling. There are usually formal job descriptions for every position, and sometimes they are even up-to-date and reflective of the job requirements. Even so, a general job description may not be enough. Take some time to list the requirements that you believe are really important to the position you are filling. While still fresh in your mind, you may want to consider all of the tasks the prior employee did well, or not so well, and see where they fit on your needs list. One of my clients recently undertook this specific effort after an employee left, and it changed his thinking about the type of person he was looking for.

2. Rank the real needs in order of priority. This helps separate the “must-have” needs from the “would-like-to-have” needs. Although you may think everything on your requirements list is important, some needs are more important than others. Be selective about what you must have, as the fewer requirements you stipulate, the more choices you will have to fill the position. It does no good to have so many must-haves that nobody can possibly qualify for the job.

3. Build interview questions around the real needs. Exact interview questions will vary depending on the job being filled, but the types of questions can be surprisingly similar from job to job. If the job is a management position and one of the must-haves is leadership skill, think of questions that will assess the candidate’s experience acting as a leader. Such questions usually begin with the phrase: “Can you give me an example of . . . .” If the job is a technical position and one of the must-haves is mechanical aptitude, think of questions that will reveal how that person performed in troubleshooting, or building or repairing products. After the questions relating to these requirements are addressed, develop questions that will reveal additional information about the candidate’s skills and experience. Often, this second phase of questioning will reveal subtle differences between candidates that may all possess the must-have traits you are seeking.

4. Plan to talk less and listen more during the actual interview. The candidate should do most of the talking. Although an interview should be a so-called two-way street in which the company learns about the candidate, and the candidate learns about the position and the company, it is all too common for the interviewer to do most of the talking. As someone once said: “Those who are talking are not listening, nor learning.” There should always be time allotted at the end of the interview for the candidate to ask questions, and that is when the interviewer should do most of the talking. 

5. Consider using two interviewers. Traditionally, interviews are conducted on a one-on-one basis. Although this can be effective, you may be able to learn more about a candidate if two people are asking questions during the interview. The two interviewers can actually help each other by asking questions from different viewpoints. Some may argue that this puts the candidate at a disadvantage and may even be intimidating, but if a prospective employee cannot handle the job interview, he or she is not likely to do well in the job.

6. Plan on summarizing your perception of how the candidate would perform in the job. At the end of the interview, plan to tell the candidate what impressed you about his or her background and, although it may create some discomfort, what you believe could be a problem for the candidate if he or she were to get the job. Consider this a sanity check of sorts. Unless you have a great deal of interviewing experience and a strong record of hiring success, there is a chance you have missed or misinterpreted something during the interview. Providing the candidate an opportunity to comment on your perception could yield a win-win outcome in the event you did miss or misunderstand something important. It is also an opportunity to see how the candidate reacts to criticism.